Pittsburgh's Hill District Stepping Up

Authors: Julian Mocine-McQueen

I recently made a whirlwind, 24-hour visit to Pittsburgh. I have a lot to share with you about green jobs in the Steel City, but first things first: Pittsburgh is absolutely beautiful! I really didn't know what to expect when I arrived, but I did NOT expect the lush green hills and colliding rivers. Pittsburgh is a green city in more ways than one.

Anyway, back to the reason for my visit. I went to Pittsburgh to build with some of the up-and-coming leaders in "The Hill," Pittsburgh's oldest African American community. The earliest residents date back to the 1800's and you can feel it and see it. Brick buildings of all shades, pavement that sags with age, rolling hills…beautiful and historic.

But my time in Pittsburgh was focused on the future, not the past, as I helped facilitate an exciting new training program for community leaders in Pittsburgh. The CORO Center for Civic Leadership has recruited 14 of the brightest minds in the Hill to participate in "Green Jobs 101," a training program with a dynamic curriculum and a wide array of partner businesses and organizations. I was honored to participate on behalf of Green For All and co-facilitate the second session with our partner from GTECH Khari Mosley, which focused on policy and community organizing.

After lunch at the Primanti Bros. (amazing sandwiches with slaw and fries and so much more!), we met with the 14 leaders at the home of the Pittsburgh Green Initiative. The initiative is an example of the great work happening in Pittsburgh — a massive city project that will create a new green tech high school campus as well as business and office space for green entrepreneurs. In our session, we gave participants a chance to look at the political landscape from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, and then think about creative ways they could effect change locally. The three hours flew by. Everyone in the room contributed to discussions on topics ranging from the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the lack of farmers markets in the Hill (despite the fact that Pittsburgh has dozens of farmers markets).

Many of the leaders in the room were new to green issues, but they've taken the opportunity to educate themselves quickly and thoroughly. At the end of the session, they analyzed the state of the Hill district in several areas, among them transportation, food, energy, and policy. Their analysis suggested that the Hill District lacks many elements of a green economy, but as Hill resident and local Pastor Brian Edmonds said, "the only thing greater than the problems are the opportunities."

Really, that was a theme that came up time and time again while I was in Pittsburgh. The feeling throughout the city is one of hope and optimism, despite the dire economic times. Pittsburgh and its residents are putting tremendous energy into the green economy, and it is beginning to pay off. The Pittsburgh Green Initiative is one example of this. Another is the large community garden that is being developed just one block from where playwright August Wilson grew up in the Hill district. Plots are being made available first to Hill district residents; they will provide food for others in the district, as well as the Pittsburgh food bank.

Although I was only in Pittsburgh a short time, I left with a great feeling of hope. The people I met through the training have a clear vision and are dedicated to becoming the leaders that Pittsburgh needs. And as they become Pittsburgh's civic leaders, they will carry with them an unshakable dedication to make Pittsburgh's economy as green as the hills that surround it.

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